1950s Classic Hollywood Blonde Bombshells
Marilyn Monroe's Competition?
Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and Marilyn Monroe was one of the most imitated actresses of her time.
Welcome to Classic 1950s Hollywood Blonde Bombshells, a salute to some of the most beautiful blonde actresses of the 1950s, most of whom found themselves being compared to Marilyn Monroe. It's not hard to understand why. Marilyn was a sensation, and each studio wanted their own version. Even 20th Century Fox, which had the real deal, searched for a replacement because the real Marilyn was so "temperamental". Sheree North and Jayne Mansfield were their picks, but Marilyn never really had anything to worry about. While imitation is flattery, it offered little competition in this case.
The Marilyn Monroe "Clones"
A multitude of beautiful blonde women, including Barbara Lang, Barbara Nichols, Joi Lansing, Diana Dors, and Mamie Van Doren, along with Jayne Mansfield and Sheree North, are now known as the blonde "bombshells" groomed so carefully by the studios to replace Marilyn or capitalize on her platinum fame.
But there are other blonde beauties too, all talented and unique in their own ways, who were simply hidden in Marilyn's shadow. None of these ladies, as well as the "clones and wannabes" ever achieved their full potential. This was a loss, not just for the studios, but for movie-goers as well.
Here, in alphabetical order, are short biographies of some of the classic blonde beauties of 1950s Hollywood.
Born in Arkansas, Jeanne Carmen ran away from home at 13, eventually ending up in New York City. She began her career as a dancer but eventually got into modeling by posing for men's magazines. She was a trick shot golfer and toured with celebrity trick golfer Jack Redmond.
In 1951 Carmen began working on a string of films, including Untamed Youth and I Married a Woman, featuring Diana Dors.
Rumored to have been a close friend and confidant of Marilyn Monroe, Carmen claimed that shortly after Marilyn's death, mobster Johnny Russell told her to leave Hollywood. She fled to Scotsdale, Arizona, where she remained for over 10 years. There, she gave up her blonde bombshell look and settled down into a quiet life.
She died peacefully in her sleep in 2007 at age 77 in Orange County, California, where she had lived since 1978.
Marilyn Monroe's Gallic "rival" was Martine Carol. Born Marie-Louise Mourer in 1922 in Biarritz, France Carol began her career in 1942 on the French stage and broke into films in the 1940s.
In 1950 Carol gained international fame, with her role in the film Caroline Chérie, a movie about the French Revolution.
In 1954, she was signed to contract with Twentieth Century Fox by Darryl Zanack for a five film deal, one movie per year. Her first role was to be in Can-Can that was to start filming in 1955. (1) (It never happened until 1960, and Martine was not in the cast). She did get to make films with actors Jeff Chandler, Jack Palance and Van Johnson.
Sadly, Carol's career as a sex symbol was cut short by the arrival of Brigitte Bardot. Her last film was Hell is Empty (1966).
She died at age 46 (some sources say 48) on February 6, 1967 of a heart attack, while staying at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco. She had been invited to the premiere of the Tony Curtis and Zsa Zsa Gabor film Arrivederci Baby. (2)
(1) Parsons, Louella. "Martine Carol to Sing in Cole Porter's Can-Can." The Milwaukee Sentinel 21 Oct. 1954: n. pag. Print.
(2) "French Film Actress, Martine Carol Found Dead." The Montreal Gazette 7 Feb. 1967: 2. Print.
Diana Mary Fluck was born October 23, 1931, in Swindon England. At an early age she decided she wanted to be an actress and studied the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She changed her last name to "Dors" and by 16 she had an uncredited part in an English film called The Shop at Sly Corner. Soon after, she had a bit part in Dancing With Crime. By 1948, she had six film credits to her name.
With her career flourishing in England, Dors came to Hollywood and signed a three-picture deal with RKO Studios (1). After completing two of the three films—The Unholy Wife and I Married A Girl—Dors was released from her contract. It seems at a pool party at her home on August 19, 1956, attended by stars and photographers, someone pushed her, fully clothed, into the swimming pool. Her husband, Dennis Hamilton, thinking that photographer Stuart Sawyer was responsible, promptly pummeled him. (2) (3)
In 1957, Dors separated from Hamilton and in 1958, she married Richard "Dickie" Dawson (from Hogan's Heroes and the game show Family Feud) whom she had met on the Steve Allen Show. They married in New York and had two sons but would divorce in 1966. In 1968, she married actor Alan Lake, seven years her junior. They had one son, Jason. They remained married until her death in 1984 from stomach cancer. She was just 53 years old.
(1) Thomas, Bob. "Diana Dors Gives Lend-Lease Lift." The Milwaukee Sentinel 28 July 1956: 8. Print.
(2) "UP Cameraman Slugged: Diana Dors Says He Pushed Her Into Pool." The Ocala Star-Banner 20 Aug. 1956: 6. Print
(3) "Diana Dors Dunked at Own Housewarming." The St. Petersburg Times 20 Aug. 1956: 10. Print
Ekberg was a beauty queen who tried for the Miss Universe title in 1950. She didn't win, but she did get a contract with Universal Studios.
Ekberg worked on two movies with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin (Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust ) at Paramount, and the studio labeled her their version of Marilyn. Ekberg later admitted that she never took the idea of being a movie star too seriously, and that she preferred riding horses to long hours of studying acting techniques. This might explain why she was never a bigger star.
By the end of the 1950s, Ekberg's career was on the decline. She made her greatest film in 1960, Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, opposite Marcello Mastroianni as his unattainable fantasy woman.
Ekberg died after a long illness at the age of 83 in her home country of Italy in January, 2015.
Born August 10, 1924 in Fort Worth Texas, Martha Hyer finished college before deciding to pursue a movie career. Her first appearance was an uncredited part in the 1946 film The Locket.
Hyer's best screen performance was in Some Came Running (1958) opposite Frank Sinatra. She received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for that role, but lost to Wendy Hiller who won for her work in Separate Tables.
The bulk of Hyer's work was in the 1950s, but she did continue acting through the 1960s. Her last film was The Day of the Wolves in 1973.
In 1990 she published an autobiography, Finding My Way: A Hollywood Memoir.
In 1944 Adele Jergens signed a contract with Columbia Pictures. They dyed her brunette hair blonde and her career as a "B" movie actress began. Soon, she was labeled "The Eyeful."
Jergen's roles fell into the chorus-girl or hardened-floozy categories. In 1948, she starred in Ladies of the Chorus as Marilyn Monroe's mother. What was interesting about this was that Jergen was only nine years older than the up-and-coming Monroe.
In the 1950s, Jergen made numerous TV and film appearances. Maybe you remember her as Boots Marsden in Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) or her appearance opposite Betty Hutton in Somebody Loves Me (1952.) She appeared on TV shows including My Favorite Husband (season three, episode nine, "The Painting") and on I Married Joan, to name a few.
Jergens lived a long life, dying at age 84 in 2002. She is interred in the Pioneer Section of Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth, California.
Barbara Jean Bly, who would later change her name to Barbara Lang, was born March 2, 1928 in Hollywood, California. Her mother was silent movie dancer Esther Kaufman.
In her teens Lang tried modeling, singing in cocktail lounges, and even playing piano in nightclubs, but she hated the work because of all the lewd come-ons by male customers.
In 1953, Lang was suddenly unable to move her legs and facial muscles. The diagnosis was polio. Not knowing what else to do, she turned to God. Within months she was better and she attributed the recovery to her faith. Despite her recovery, she tired easily for the rest of her life.
In 1956, Lang worked on a few episodes of Death Valley Days and met actor Alan Wells. The couple later married, but Wells' divorce from actress Claudia Bennett was not officially final at the time, and two years later Lang’s marriage to Wells was annulled.
In 1957, after signing a contract with MGM as a result of her work on Death Valley Days, Lang had a bit part in a film called Hot Summer Night. A second role that year in House of Numbers was a lead, as Jack Palance's wife.
Also that year, Lang lost out on a co-starring role in Jailhouse Rock opposite Elvis Presley. But the next year she worked on a film called Party Girl that co-starred Robert Taylor and Cyd Charisse. When not working on movies, Lang did TV guest appearances and stage work.
Sadly, Lang attempted suicide in 1958 by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. She recovered from her ordeal, but her career didn't.
In 1967 she was married for a second time, to John George. That marriage ended in divorce in 1972. Not much was heard from her as an actress after that, and in 1982 she died of pneumonia in Los Angeles at the young age of 54.
Joi (sometimes spelled Joy) Lansing was born Joyce Rae Brown in Salt Lake City, Utah on April 6, 1928. Some sources list her birth name as Joyce Wassmansdorff, but this is a mistake, as that was her mother's second husband's name. Her father worked as a shoe salesman and her mother, Virginia Grace Shupp Brown, was a housewife.
Lansing was a pretty child who grew into a shapely young woman. In 1948 she got her first film roles in The Counterfeiters, Julie Misbehaves, and Easter Parade. She continued to get bit parts in films, but was seldom credited. In 1951 she got to play Susan Matthews in FBI Girl and Marilyn Turner in the Danny Kaye film On The Riviera. The next year she made an uncredited appearance in the classic movie Singing in The Rain with Gene Kelly.
Lansing began working in television in 1955, with appearances on Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok and I Love Lucy. In 1955 she got the part of Shirley Swanson in The Bob Cummings Show and amazed a lot of folks by showing that she could actually act. Lansing eventually landed more substantial roles in films such as The Brave One and So You Think The Grass Is Greener, both released in 1956. Mostly, though, she spent the 1950s starring in B movies.
In 1958 she guest-starred on an episode of The Adventures of Superman, playing Superman's wife. There was talk of making her role a recurring part, but George Reeves died and the series was canceled. In 1960, she got the role of Goldie in the TV series Klondike, but she’s probably best-remembered for her role as Lester Flatt's wife on The Beverly Hillbillies.
In 1965, Lansing began working in night clubs. She cut an album in 1965 featuring a collection of songs written especially for her by composer Jimmy Haskel.
In 1967 she appeared in Hillbillies in a Haunted House and then five years later in one final film, Bigfoot.
Lansing was diagnosed with breast cancer and died in 1972 at the age of 43. She is buried in the Pierce Brothers Santa Paula Cemetery in Santa Paula, California. Her plot is Section N, Lot 444.
Born Vera Jayne Palmer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania on April 19, 1933, Jayne Mansfield suffered greatly when her father died when she was just three years old. Her mother, Vera, supported herself and young Jayne on her teacher's salary but remarried in 1939. Jayne, her mother, and her new stepfather, Harry Peers, moved to Texas.
In 1950, Jayne married Paul Mansfield and the couple moved to Austin. Jayne attended the University of Texas and studied drama, with hopes of one day becoming an actress. In 1950 she gave birth to a baby girl, Jayne Marie, which led her husband to hope that his wife's acting aspirations were over. He was wrong, and in 1954 he agreed to move the family to Los Angeles so that she could try to get a career in acting started.
In Hollywood, Mansfield got a few parts in films at Warner Brothers. In 1955 she played a dramatic role in The Burglar and then Rita Marlowe in the Broadway play, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? It seemed as if she was on her way to stardom. Jayne and Paul divorced in 1958. Mansfield married actor and body builder Mickey Hargitay, but they divorced in 1964. A third marriage followed, to producer and director Matt Cimber, but that marriage too ended in divorce, in 1966.
Mansfield starred in the film The Girl Can't Help It (1956) and signed a contract with 20th Century Fox. She played opposite Joan Collins in The Wayward Bus, which was a moderate success. In 1957, Mansfield appeared in the film version of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Then, against advice from agents, she agreed to star opposite Cary Grant in Kiss Them For Me. She didn't receive top female billing and her screen time was very limited. In fact, her character didn’t even land Cary Grant in the movie; he was interested in Suzy Parker’s character instead.
In 1959 roles began to dry up. Mansfield kept busy with a series of low-budget European films. In 1960 20th Century Fox lent her out to do two independent films in England: Too Hot To Handle and The Challenge. She also worked on It Happened in Athens, and received top billing, but her role was more of a supporting one. Fox was in dire financial trouble at the time and hoped that by bumping Mansfield up in the billing, that they could get folks to go see the film. It didn't work.
In 1963 Mansfield tried to jump-start her career by appearing nude in a film called Promises, Promises, which co-starred Tommy Noonan, Mickey Hargitay, and Marie McDonald. The movie was banned in a few cities but actually a moderate success at the box office. Playboy magazine had a photographer on the set and Mansfield appeared nude in Playboy to promote the movie.
She did more low budget movies, and some stage work as well. She recorded several albums, one entitled Jayne Mansfield: Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky & Me for which she read poetry. In 1965 she recorded two songs "As The Clouds Drift By" and "Suey." What make the songs notable is that Jimi Hendrix played bass and lead guitar.
In 1964 Mansfield turned down the role of Ginger Grant in the TV series Gilligan's Island. At the time she explained that she wanted to shake the kind of stereotype that the character represented: the pretty, but ditzy, actress. She took other TV and film roles, including a cameo in the 1967 film, A Guide for the Married Man starring Walter Matthau and Robert Morse.
In June, 1967 Mansfield worked as an entertainer at the Gus Stevens Supper Club in Biloxi, Mississippi. On the night of the 29th, after her last show, she and her lawyer/lover Sam Brody set off with driver Ronnie Harrison and Jayne's three children on an overnight road trip to New Orleans. They never made it. The car ran underneath a truck that spraying for mosquitoes and hidden in the fog of the spray. Mansfield, Brody, and Harrison were killed instantly but the three children, who had been sleeping in the back seat, were not injured.
There is a persistent myth that Mansfield was decapitated by the accident. Photos of the crash do indeed show what looks like a human head hanging from the windshield of the car, but that is actually just a wig that she was wearing.
Some in Hollywood thought that she would have wanted to have been buried in Hollywood, but instead she was buried in a small quiet cemetery in a small Pennsylvania town beside her beloved father.
Ex-husband Mickey Hargitay had a heart-shaped stone placed on Mansfield's grave inscribed with the words, "We live to love you more each day." How true.
McDonald's career started in the 1940s, when she enjoyed success as one of that decade’s most popular pin-up models.
She was born July 6, 1923 in Kentucky as Cora Marie Frye. Her parents split when she was six years old; her mother remarried and moved to Yonkers New York where Cora did well enough in school to be offered a scholarship to Columbia University to study journalism. But Cora had other ideas: She was determined to try a career in show business. She began entering beauty contests and winning and this attention opened the door to Broadway. Her success there led to Hollywood, where she changed her name and got a job singing with Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra on his radio show. This led to getting a contract with Universal Studios, but they didn't use her often, her roles being very small bit parts.
The press started to call her "the Body" because of her physical beauty and well-proportioned body. In the 40's she managed to get a few roles in films like Guest in the House (1944), Living in a Big Way (1947) with Gene Kelly, and Tell It to the Judge (1949). In the 1950s. she managed to do roles on TV as well as the big screen, most notably The Geisha Boy with Jerry Lewis in 1958. In 1963, she starred with Jayne Mansfield in Promises, Promises.
While McDonald didn't set the movie industry on fire with her acting ability, she certainly made for interesting press. In 1957, she claimed to have been kidnapped and assaulted by two men. She later admitted that she made up the story for publicity. A grand jury investigation into the stunt went nowhere and no charges were filed against her.
Sadly, she died of a drug overdose on Oct. 21, 1965 at the age of 42.
There isn't a lot of information available about Beverly Michaels, so I have tried to piece together something that sounds reasonable from what little I have found, so if the dates sound a little off here and there, I do apologize.
She was born in New York City in 1927 or perhaps '28, depending on different sources. She started her career as a model in her teens. She began acting on Broadway in 1946, in a play which closed soon after it opened. One of her first movie roles was as Felice Backett in East Side, West Side. She then had some uncredited roles in films like The Marrying Kind and No Holds Barred, both in 1952.
Michaels began a May to December romance with MGM producer Voldemar Vetluguin after meeting him on the set of East Side, West Side. He was 28 years her senior. They married in 1949 but separated in 1950 and finally divorced in 1952. She would remarry in 1955 to playwright Russell Rouse, who was 19 years her senior and would remain married to him until his death in 1987.
During the 1950s she made just a handful of films, including Wicked Woman in 1953, Crashout and Betrayed Women both in 1955, and Blonde Bait and Women Without Men, both in 1956. Her roles were usually always the tough dame, and she had, what many described as a husky, sultry voice.
Beverly Michaels died in 2007 after suffering a stroke.
Born October 31, 1928 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Cleo Moore's interest in acting started in high school when she acted in several school productions. After graduation, Moore moved with her family to California and it didn't take long for the studios, namely RKO, to discover her. Moore did a screen test and the studio liked what they saw. She appeared in her first film, Congo Bill, in 1948. The film was a failure and Moore thought about giving up, but two years later she landed a role in Rio Grande Patrol, which also did nothing to advance her career.
Moore went on to star in a string of forgettable movies, including Bright Leaf, Gambling House, This Side of the Law, and On Dangerous Ground. It seemed as though the studios were more interested in showing off her physical assets than in the storylines.
Moore wanted to taken seriously as an actress, but continued to get roles in forgettable box office duds such as The Other Woman and Bait. In 1955 Moore made two more films, Hold Back Tomorrow and Woman's Prison, which fared well at the box office. Her last film appearance was in Hit and Run, which co-starred her sister, Mara Lea. The movie bombed and Moore decided that she had had enough. She quit the film industry and married real estate tycoon Herbert Heftler in 1961. The marriage proved to be more successful than her Hollywood career.
Sadly, Moore died on October 25, 1973, just a week before her 45th birthday, of a heart attack. She is buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Los Angeles California.
Sheree was born Dawn Shirley Crang on January 17, 1932 in Los Angeles California. At age 10 she started dancing, and then in her teens turned her attention to modeling. In 1948 at age 15, she married Fred Bessire and they had a daughter. However the marriage didn't last long and ended in divorce in 1953. In 1955, she married again, but this marriage, too, ended in divorce a year later. A third marriage produced a second daughter, but ended in divorce in 1963.
When 20th Century Fox was having troubles with their temperamental star, Marilyn Monroe, the studio was on the lookout for someone who could fill her shoes. Sheree North had the same measurements as Marilyn, and the studio used North's potential to replace her to try to force Monroe to curtail her "bad behavior," which included being late to movie sets or simply not showing up. The studio reasoned that any sexy blonde could be a "Marilyn," and it wasn't uncommon at the time for studios to sign contracts with actresses who physically resembled big stars as way of keeping their stars in line.
In 1954, North was cast in a movie Monroe had turned down, How to Be Very, Very Popular, with Betty Grable. This led to a series of roles intended to give Monroe some competition: The Lieutenant Wore Skirts, The Best Things in Life Are Free and No Down Payment. After these films were completed, the studio decided that North was not in fact the successor to Monroe's title and moved on to another hot blond property by the name of Jayne Mansfield.
In 1958, North's contract with 20th Century Fox ended. She moved on to act in other movies and TV shows. She was nominated for an Emmy in 1976 for her performance in an episode of Marcus Welby, MD, and again in 1980 for her performance in an episode of Archie Bunker's Place. She continued working right on through the 1980s, doing guest appearances in shows like The Golden Girls, where she was cast as Blanche's (Rue McClanahan's) sister, Virginia. In the 1990s she had a role on Seinfeld as Kramer's mother, where she revealed his first name was Cosmo.
North died on November 4, 2005 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center from complications associated with cancer surgery.
Barbara Marie Nickerauer was born in Queens, New York on December 30, 1929. She began her entertainment career in the 1940s as a model and burlesque dancer but did manage to get some roles in television shows, usually as a wise-cracking side-kick.
In 1957, Nichols landed three movie roles, Pal Joey, Sweet Smell of Success, and The Pajama Game.
In the '60s she played a small role in The George Raft Story with Jayne Mansfield. In The Disorderly Orderly Nichols played Miss Marlowe, an actress who simply wanted to take a break at a private rest home where Jerry Lewis worked. Let's just say that her plans for a restful and relaxing vacation didn't work with Lewis around.
Nichols ventured into TV in the '60s working on shows including Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Wild Wild West, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., and Batman in which she was cast as "Maid Marilyn."
The 70s saw Nichols in guest stints on The Doris Day Show, Love American Style, and Adam 12. One of her last movie appearances was a small part in Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976.)
In October of 1976, after suffering from a long time illness, Nichols died of liver failure at the age of 46. Medical experts attributed her death to injuries she had sustained in a car accident in 1957. (1) She is buried in Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale, New York and her grave can be found in the Garden of Sanctuary area. Maybe sometime if you are in the area, you can bring her a bouquet of flowers.
"Barbara Nichols "Dizzy Blonde" Actress Is Dead." Lodi News Sentinel 7 Oct. 1976: 14. Print.
In 1954, Columbia Studio hired Kim Novak to be their version of Marilyn Monroe. She signed a six-month contract and debuted in the film Pushover opposite Fred MacMurray. Her next role was in the film Phffft! opposite Jack Lemmon. In this role, she played the femme fatale, Janis, and audiences loved her. She began to get huge amounts of fan mail.
It wasn't until 1958 that Novak would get the role she is best known for: Judy Barton in Vertigo, co-starring Jimmy Stewart. Novak played a woman caught up in a murder scheme that retired police officer (and vertigo sufferer) Stewart has to solve.
Novak went on to appear again with Jimmy Stewart in Bell, Book and Candle. Jack Lemmon was also in that movie and was paired with Novak two more times.
Novak's career slowed down in the 1960s when she took only the occasional role. In the 1980s, she starred for one season as "Kit Marlowe" on the night-time soap opera Falcon Crest. Her last screen appearance was in 1991 in the film Liebestraum, about a woman writer who has a secret past. The film was not well received and didn't do well at the box office.
Novak spends her time raising llamas and horses with her husband, Dr. Robert Malloy, whom she married in 1976.
At the age of 19 Carol Ohmart won the title of Miss Utah. She went on to be fourth runner-up in the Miss America contest, which opened the doors for her into the world of modeling, commercials, and magazine covers.
In 1955 Paramount had high hopes for Carol, they wanted to groom her into their version of Marilyn Monroe. Director Mike Curtiz likened her to "a female tiger recently out of the jungle". Sadly, Ohmart's two films, both made in 1956, The Wild Party and The Scarlet Hour flopped at the box office and the studio lost interest in her, claiming that she came across as too hard-bitten and cold to be considered a sex symbol.
Ohmart gained some fame in the 1959 William Castle campy cult classic The House on Haunted Hill, playing adulterous wife Annabelle Loren, who hatches a plan with her lover to kill her husband, Frederick Loren (Vincent Price).
She found more work on TV, playing her last role in the 1974 TV movie, The Spectre of Edgar Allan Poe.
Prior to becoming one of the most most watchable and entertaining actresses to ever hit the big screen, Jan Sterling was a Broadway star for 11 years.
It's a shame that she didn't become a bigger movie star. She had the looks and talent to do so. Sterling made a name for herself in film noir movies, playing one of her most memorable roles in Billy Wilder's 1951 drama, Ace in the Hole (sometimes known as The Big Carnival). In 1954, she was nominated for an Oscar in the best supporting actress category for her role in The High and the Mighty.
She also had roles in Johnny Belinda, The Human Jungle, and Caged. In the 1960s Stewart slowed down her pace and took TV roles on Burke's Law and Mannix. She continued to work into the '70s and '80s, appearing in Kung Fu, Little House on the Prairie, and Three's Company.
Sterling passed away on March 26, 2004 at the age of 82.
I have to admit that prior to researching for this article, I had never heard of Greta Thyssen.
She was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1933 and won the Miss Denmark title in 1951. That inspired her to seek out her fame and fortune as an actress in Hollywood. She dyed her brunette hair blonde and went into battle competing with all the other blonde bombshells of the time, namely Marilyn and Jayne.
She had an uncredited part in Monroe's 1956 film, Bus Stop and went on to work on Accused of Murder, Shadows, Terror is a Man, The Three Blondes in His Life, and a few short Three Stooges movies.
Her last work in the movie business was in the 1967 film, Cottonpickin' Chickenpickers.
Mamie Van Doren
Born Joan Lucille Olander in Rowena, South Dakota on February 6, 1931, Mamie Van Doren came to California in 1942. It was a dream come true for a young girl who was a fan of Ginger Rogers and Jean Harlow and who had decided that she too wanted to be an actress. At age 13 Van Doren had her first acting role, in a television show called Little Joanie: The Flower Girl. At 15, she won beauty contests and RKO studios took an interest in her. She soon caught the eye of Howard Hughes, who got her a few small parts in films, but nothing came of it.
Van Doren worked as a show girl in Las Vegas during the 1950s and it was during this time that she posed for a pin up with artist Alberto Vargas. The resulting image appeared in the July 1951 issue of Esquire.
In 1953, Van Doren returned to Los Angeles and hired her first real manager, Jimmy McHugh, who helped get her a role in the film Forbidden. Universal Studios liked her work and offered her a seven-year contract, hoping that this blonde bombshell would become their version of Marilyn Monroe. (For the record, Van Doren never considered herself a Marilyn replacement). It was Universal that suggested she change her name to Mamie Van Doren, theorizing that an actress named after the newly inaugurated president's wife (Mamie Eisenhower) would be a hit.
Van Doren continued to make movies in the 1950s, most notably Teacher's Pet (1958) with Clark Gable and Doris Day, Born Reckless (1958), High School Confidential (1958), The Beat Generation (1959), and Girls Town (1959). Some of her films were among the earliest in Hollywood to include the new musical sounds of rock and roll.
A number of her roles painted her as the "bad girl" of the blonde bombshells. These included roles in The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960), The Beautiful Legs of Sabrina (1959), Sex Kittens Go To College (1960), and Vice Squad (1960). You can just hear all the "racy" content in those titles.
In 1960 Van Doren posed for Playboy and did some theatre work on Broadway. In 1968 and again in 1970 she did tours of Vietnam with the USO.
In 1987, she wrote her autobiography, Playing the Field. Van Doren is still going strong. While she never achieved the success of Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield, she did manage to outlast both of them.
© 2009 Glory Miller